Beneath a grizzled and tough exterior lies one of the most literate, gifted singer-songwriters in Nashville – Jamey Johnson. His most recent album, The Guitar Song, is a Grammy-nominated double CD that topped the charts, selling more than 300,000 copies.
In one of his songs, he calls whiskey “the working man’s tea,” and he drinks it that way too. His office in Nashville is littered with dozens of cases of Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select, some stacked more than four feet high. When he first started getting successful, he had too many people to thank, and no real way to thank them. So he bought a barrel; it cost him $10,000. He gives out individual bottles from it as gifts.
“I like to do one thing, and that’s get drunk and sing country music. That’s one thing to me. I’m not a recreational or a social drinker. I’m just a drinker. If I have the option of drinking, I’m gonna drink. I’m gonna drink until I get done drinking. And it takes me a long time to get full.”
One of Johnson’s most touching numbers is a ballad called “That’s Why I Write Songs,” inspired by the years when he was first learning to write. He was especially struck by his dad’s reaction, memorialized in the lines: I remember how it blew my mind/When I played my song, and watched a grown man cry. He says he’d rather write one song that does that, than a thousand that don’t.
Over the years, Johnson has become the country star people who don’t like country can get behind. Even if you’ve never set foot in a honky-tonk, you can find something to appreciate in his music. Recently, when people in Nashville called his most recent album ambitious, Johnson replied,
“Hell, getting out of bed is ambitious some days.”